Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear Dog Owner: A Runner's Plea

I know your pup is the best doggie in the whole wide world, is nothing but friendly, and wouldn't harm a fly. I like dogs, too! However, I'm going to try to help you see from the perspective of a runner (or cyclist, or rollerblader, or nordic skier or even skateboarder) why you're endangering both your pet and other people with some of your behaviours.

First and foremost, if you're not using a leash on a public sidewalk or trail, you're showing a total lack of respect for the law, other people and your own dog's safety. I don't run or cycle through the off-leash park and local bylaws state that dogs must be on a leash when in public spaces. If you're on a sidewalk, what's to stop your pup from taking a fancy to run into traffic? If you're on a trail, how certain are you that your dog will come back from chasing a squirrel or rabbit just because you've called their name? Can you run fast & long enough to catch them if they're running away into the woods? Even if you're not concerned about any of that, are you sure that they won't have an encounter with a dog that may be larger and more aggressive? Leashes are for everyone's good. If you really want your pup to be able to get a good run in, either let them loose in your fenced backyard or take them to an off-leash park.

A dog's instinct tells them to chase - whether it's a furry critter, a car bumper or a runner makes no difference. When I pass you at a run or on a bike, there's a strong chance your dog will follow. The onus is on you to keep control, not on me to stop and let you catch your pet. If you can't run at 20+kph to grab a hold of the dog's collar (you DO have a collar on your pup, right?) as it chases my bike, you need to use a leash. Every. Single. Time. I'd run out of fingers and toes if I had to count the number of times a dog owner has had to come hauling after me because their pet thought I was the mechanical bunny at a greyhound track.

Clearly not me - I don't run with music.

So you've got your dog on a leash. Great! That doesn't mean you've necessarily got him or her under control. Sidewalks are usually only 3 feet wide, and trails vary from singletrack to converted rail line - at most about 7 feet wide. This means that even with a short (non-extendable) leash, your dog can traverse the entire width of the space other people have to travel. Are you prepared to rein fido in when he tries to lunge at someone?

As friendly as your dog may be, they may perceive me running toward you as a threat to their owner. Even if they've been fine with other people walking past, a runner looks more aggressive as they approach at greater speed. In an attempt to protect you, they may nip at me as I pass - my favourite running jacket has a patch over a hole where this happened, right at hip height (courtesy of a local greyhound, which was on a leash at the time). Had I not been dressed for a winter run, that hole could easily have been in my skin.

Even if your pup doesn't perceive me as a threat and just wants to be friendly, their approach puts both of us in danger. Unpredictable movements may result in your dog getting kicked or me being tripped by their leash (assuming you're using one). I'd feel awful if I ended up kicking your pooch, and I'm sure you wouldn't be happy either! This could easily be the end result from your dog trying to jump up to greet me while I'm at a run, though, and when a dog and cyclist meet it's more than likely that everyone loses in the end.

I can almost hear the sound of multitudes of dog owners asking why I can't just give them a wide berth if I'm so concerned. I try - I really do. I'll start talking to your pup as I approach in order to avoid startling them (especially if I'm coming up behind you), then try to give them lots of space and keep a hand out to gently fend them off if need be, but I risk injury by stepping off of the sidewalk or trail. Much better that you short-leash your dog than I roll an ankle because of a soft spot in the grass, a gopher hole or a sharply pitched drainage ditch.

So, you're doing your part. You've leashed your dog, kept aware of other trail users, and short-leashed them whenever someone approaches to ensure they don't lunge, jump or nip. I'll ask you to go just one step further and clean up after them, since noone ever wants to discover that something they own bears evidence of a pooch's digestive tract. Since many of you are under some kind of misconception about this, I'll try to clear things up - snow does NOT make dog poop disappear! One more thing; just because you've bagged it doesn't mean you're done. I see an upsetting number of plastic bags with doggie leavings in them left around in public places and really, if you've already taken the time to bag it is it really so much of a stretch to put it in a rubbish bin?

We really can get along!

I really like dogs, and it makes me happy to see people bringing their four-legged friends out to enjoy the outdoors while I'm partaking of some fresh air myself. A little consideration for the other bipeds - and your own pet - are all I'm asking for, ok? I'm not the only one, either, so...please?

1 comment:

Go on, have at me!